A Large-Scale Experimental Study of Gender and Pair Composition in Pair Programming
The proportion of women in computer science majors is currently lower than in any other STEM major. Various studies have sought to explain---and ultimately find ways to reduce---gender disparities in computer science participation and persistence. Pair programming has been proposed as a practice that may not only promote outcomes overall within college and workplace environments, but also help diminish isolation and boost the confidence of women in computer science. Some promising results have been obtained for women in pair programming, but the findings are not consistent across studies, and the limitations of previous research make it difficult to draw strong conclusions. The present study examined 969 undergraduates in several introductory computer science courses who engaged in three different pairings throughout the semester. All pairings were randomly assigned, so the findings reflect the causal influence of the gender pair characteristics on a variety of student outcomes. Overall, having a female partner led to several positive outcomes relative to having a male partner; these included greater lab section attendance as well as greater confidence in the finished product and confidence in the solution for the pair programming assignment. The advantages of having a female partner were occasionally greater for female students than for male students. Overall, the significant findings were most pronounced in the course intended for computer science majors. These results offer evidence for the educational benefits of pair programming for promoting women's participation in computer science, as well as the need for careful consideration of pair composition.